RISING VIOLENCE amongst n fans has spawned a new phenomenon in the country's post-communist sport: the gun-carrying footballer.
No longer content to confine their rage to smashing buses and shop windows or setting fire to stadium seats, supporters have turned their fury towards the players, who have reacted in kind. Carrying a firearm is now viewed almost as a standard precaution by some celebrated names.
"Our players now bring pistols to training sessions and matches because they are afraid of unpredictable behaviour by fans," the newspaper Pro Sport wrote recently.
In the Black Sea port of Constanta, after the local side were beaten 1-0 by National Bucharest, a frenzied fan began punching National's Stelian Carabas near the dressing-room. The assault came to an abrupt end when his team-mate, Gheorghe Butoiu, thrust a 9mm pistol into the attacker's face.
"I had the gun with me because I was sure that things would get worse," Butoiu said. "Unfortunately, I was right."
National Bucharest's goalkeeper Cristian Munteanu admitted to owning a Browning pistol, and said several of his team-mates had also bought weapons.
Another goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont, newly promoted to the national squad, said he acquired a gun when his team, Rapid Bucharest, were having a tough time in the league two years ago. "I was afraid sometimes when angry supporters would approach me on the street and ask why we were doing so badly," he said.
Some players said the biggest threat came not from fans disgruntled at a club's poor form, but from those convinced that top players returning from lucrative spells abroad were easy targets for extorting money. "Refusing to give money could become dangerous," the national team player Constantin Galca, of the Spanish club Espanyol, said. "When you refuse, frustrated supporters spit at you and hurl abuse."
THE COACH who will try to outwit Glenn Hoddle when Bulgaria visit England for a European Championship qualifier next month has, it transpires, a reputation for aggressive and temperamental behaviour.
Dimitar Dimitrov, who replaced Hristo Bonev following Bulgaria's 3-0 home defeat to Sweden earlier this month, has been disciplined twice by European football's governing body, Uefa, this season for incidents in Champions' League qualifying matches.
Dimitrov, who began the season in charge of the Bulgarian champions, Litex Lovech, was suspended for one game when he went on to the pitch during the game to congratulate his players after they scored a goal at home to Halmstad in July. He received another one-match ban a week later in Sweden, when he shouted abusive comments from the stands during the return leg. Uefa also fined him heavily.
Dimitrov, regarded as one of Bulgaria's most talented but controversial coaches, took unfashionable Neftochimik Bourgas to second place in the league before his winning season with Litex Lovech. He said last week that he intended to continue his predecessor's policy of rejuvenating the team - starting with the Euro 2000 game at Wembley on 10 October.
"As Bonev's assistant I accepted the idea for gradual rejuvenation of the squad, and I plan to keep on following it," Dimitrov said. "Our main goal should be to form an efficient team which will start the 2002 World Cup qualifiers successfully." The defeat to Poland marked his debut as a national team assistant coach.
In last weekend's Bulgarian league programme, Slavia Sofia crushed Dobrudzha Dobrich 6-2 - and Slavia's coach, Stoyan Kotsev, singled out his striker Ivo Trenchev as a man who could help turn around the fortunes of Bulgaria's struggling national team.
"Trenchev could prove to be very useful in the upcoming matches against England and Sweden. Dimitrov should keep an eye on him," Kotsev said.
THE RUSSIAN First Division club Spartak Nalchik may face a ban from the league at a disciplinary hearing into an incident last week when an enraged fan broke a referee's nose with a mobile phone.
Leonid Lipovoi, the competition director for the Russian league, said on Monday that officials would review last Wednesday's 1-1 draw between Spartak and Arsenal Tula in Nalchik, the capital of the ethnic southern region of Kabardino-Balkaria.
The referee Nikolai Ivanov said that, as he walked down the tunnel after the match, which increased Spartak's relegation worries, he was assaulted by a fan wielding a telephone and sustained serious injuries, including a broken nose. He also reported incidents during the game, including one in which a linesman was punched by a fan who ran on to the pitch.
The club faces various possible sanctions, including disqualification, at this week's meeting. Last week the league ordered Spartak to play their next match at a neutral ground. "I don't think Spartak will play any more home matches this season," Lipovoi said. "The club was already in big trouble, with all sorts of financial difficulties. And now this."
BRAZIL'S NATIONAL team begin a new era tonight with a friendly against Yugoslavia in Sao Luis It will be their first match since losing the World Cup final to France in July.
The new coach, Vanderley Luxemburgo, has called up only three members of the France 98 squad: the forwards Denilson and Rivaldo and the full- back Cafu. He has given a first chance to some of Brazil's most promising players: the Vasco da Gama left-back Felipe, the Recife midfielder Jackson and the Corinthians centre-half Vampeta.
Luxemburgo has also summoned some more experienced players who were overlooked by his predecessor, Mario Zagallo. They include the Internacional goalkeeper Andre, the veteran striker Muller, plus Marcelinho Carioca from Corinthians, the joint top scorer in the Brazilian league.
The squad includes 11 uncapped players, but Luxemburgo has made it plain that some of the World Cup players, such as Ronaldo, are merely being rested.Reuse content